You don’t have to brush all your teeth, only the ones you want to keep!

This gentle reminder is equally true for pets. In today’s high-tech world, no dental care strategy is as effective or economical as good old-fashioned manual toothbrushing.

Unfortunately, pets can’t understand dental care or appreciate that your diligent efforts can help reduce their periodontal disease (i.e., dental disease) and subsequent tooth and bone loss risks. Therefore, you must imperatively make your pet’s toothbrushing experience pleasant and stress-free, so that they enjoy—or at least accept—this preventive care routine. Check out these toothbrushing do’s and don’ts from your friends at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond.

DO introduce toothbrushing to your pet gradually and in short sessions

Pets are generally wary about unfamiliar implements or handling around their mouths and eyes, so—to be successful—always keep your furry pal’s training positive and fun. Break down your pet’s toothbrushing process into small steps, and practice each one until your pet is comfortable. Keep sessions brief—no more than 30 or 60 seconds—to prevent stress or anxiety. Once your pet has become accustomed to their toothbrushing routine, you’ll be able to gradually brush their teeth for longer periods and eventually brush each tooth.

DON’T use human toothpaste on pets

Human toothpaste contains dangerous ingredients, including xylitol, which is toxic to dogs, and foaming agents, which can cause pets to choke, or aspirate toothpaste into their lungs. Purchase an enzymatic toothpaste specially designed for dogs and cats. These toothpastes are safe for your pet to swallow, and come in pet-pleasing flavors such as poultry, beef, and vanilla mint.

DO use a gentle touch and note pet sensitivity or discomfort

Start by allowing your pet to simply lick toothpaste off your finger or their toothbrush. Then, gradually touch their gums and teeth with the toothpaste—first, with your finger, and then with the toothbrush. Use the lightest pressure to avoid upsetting your pet. To ensure a gentle touch, use a finger brush or hold the toothbrush at the handle’s end. 

Use extreme caution in puppies and kittens who may be teething, as toothbrushing could be painful and unpleasant to their sensitive gums. If your adult pet expresses sensitivity or discomfort, they may be suffering from dental disease. Schedule a dental assessment appointment with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team.

DON’T wrestle your pet

Pets are expert body language readers, and certain movements may threaten them (e.g., reaching, grabbing, towering over, or cornering your pet). Whenever possible, allow or encourage your pet to come to you and always give them an escape route so they can take a break. Forcing your pet to comply with toothbrushing will create negative associations that make future training and care tasks more difficult. 

DO reward your pet generously during and after each toothbrushing session

Although rewarding your pet with treats after brushing their teeth may seem counterintuitive,  remember that at this stage, you are focusing on building behavior and promoting your furry pal’s positive association with toothbrushing. End each session with a big reward such as taking a walk, playing with a favorite toy, or giving your pet a dental treat. Be generous during training, and your pet will be eager and cooperative for life.

DO brush your pet’s teeth at least three times per week

Twice-daily tooth brushing is ideal, but many pet owners find this to be an unrealistic goal. To ensure your pet’s toothbrushing routine is effective against dental disease, you must brush their teeth at least three times per week or every other day. To remove plaque and debris before pathogens can migrate under the gums and attack the tooth root, focus on brushing near the gumline rather than a tooth’s crown.

DON’T ignore these early dental disease signs in pets

Toothbrushing cannot reverse dental disease that is already present, but regular brushing can help you spot subtle oral changes before they become serious. If your pet exhibits dental disease signs or abnormal behaviors, contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond to schedule an appointment. Dental disease signs and behavior changes include:

  • Bad breath
  • Visible yellow or brown tartar
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Sensitivity or pain
  • Changes in eating (e.g., dropping or leaving food)

Toothbrushing—along with routine professional dental cleanings—are the most valuable routines you can establish for your pet’s overall health and wellbeing. Regular dental care saves you money, and prevents your pet from experiencing unnecessary pain and disease. For additional toothbrushing tips, one-on-one coaching, or to schedule your pet’s dental assessment, contact your dedicated southeast Texas veterinary team at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond.